Jason Hall tackles soldiers’ PTSD in directorial debut

“Thank you for your service.”

That phrase is commonly said to soldiers who have come home from combat. It takes on a hint of irony, however, in American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall’s directorial debut, Thank You for Your Service.  With this film, Hall hopes to inspire people to do more than just say those five words to veterans.

The film is an adaptation of the non-fiction book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Finkel. Hall visited St. Louis in October as part of a promotional tour and sat with reporters in a roundtable.

In the book, Finkel follows the home life of soldiers returning from a deployment to Baghdad as a part of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion. He had originally chronicled their lives during the Iraq War in his predecessor, The Good Soldiers.

“What [Finkel] did was articulate the cyclical nature of trauma thought,” Hall said. “The nature of the way he wrote affected the way that I told the story.”

Thank You for Your Service follows a few of the soldiers who made it back home, including Sgt. Adam Schumann, played by Miles Teller, and Tausolo Aieti, played by Beulah Koale. The film follows their struggle to adjust to family change, professional setbacks and the nightmares that keep them up. DreamWorks first acquired the rights to the book in 2013 with Steven Spielberg being eyed for the director’s chair and Hall serving as the screenwriter. Hall had just gotten off tremendous success for his Academy Award-nominated screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. That film followed the war and home life of sniper Chris Kyle.

Hall said working with Eastwood on the set of American Sniper taught him to be loose and lead based on instinct and honesty.

“What I learned from Clint is truth,” Hall said. “He’s trying to put truth up on the screen.”

It was in 2015 that Hall was confirmed to direct the film. Hall said one of the most difficult and necessary aspects of taking on the film was securing the trust of the soldiers depicted. He said his history with American Sniper and having Spielberg behind the project helped.

“Hollywood comes in and they usually mess things up really good,” Hall said. “It was a challenge to get them invested, get them to trust me, then get them to trust the actor who was going to play them.”

The film not only serves as a look into soldiers struggling personally, but also into the systems that are supposed to help them make the adjustment to home life, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Hall says that while Veterans Affairs does have to work through issues, he says we as a society have to welcome veterans home with more than just a “thank you for your service.”

“[Veterans] all have those stories that they haven’t shared, and they haven’t shared because they didn’t think we were ready, and because they don’t want to burden us with what they’re carrying,” Hall said. “We can’t just keep pointing the finger at the VA. It’s up to us as a society too to welcome these guys home.”

Hall said the reaction from veterans has been positive, saying they have responded to the honest telling of what they have been through, and it is not some “Hollywoodized” version of their story.

“We went to extreme measures to make this the most realistic, authentic depiction of what these guys have been through for a reason, and that reason is so we as a society can start to understand what they went through so that we can have a conversation with them and begin to open the door and find a new way to welcome them home,” Hall said. | Bill Loellke









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